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Fake identities, phoney reporting, and the ‘Inside Syria Media Center’

Counterpunch exposes a fake reporting project

Alexander Mercouris

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Two weeks ago, on 5th January 2018, Counterpunch published its follow up investigation to the previous investigation it had carried out into the mysterious personality of “Alice Donovan”, a writer whose pieces both Counterpunch and The Duran had published, and who the Washington Post had  exposed following a tip-off from the FBI to be a fictitious personality, with the FBI alleging that she was a Russian intelligence concoction.

Over the course of its previous investigation of “Alice Donovan” Counterpunch did indeed provide strong grounds for doubting that she is a real person.  Counterpunch also discovered that her “writings” depended heavily on plagiarism of other writers’ work.

In the aftermath of Counterpunch’s article we deleted the “Alice Donovan’s” articles which we had published and I wrote an article for The Duran in which I discussed the affair and Counterpunch’s role in exposing it.

Counterpunch’s original investigation of “Alice Donovan” however also raised questions about a writer who The Duran has also published called Sophie (or Sophia) Mangal, as well as the Inside Syria Media Center, which Sophie Mangal has claimed to work for.

Sophie Mangal is the writer whom “Alice Donovan” has most heavily plagiarised, and the seemingly close connection between Sophie Mangal and “Alice Donovan” led Counterpunch to make further enquiries about her.

At this point I should say that The Duran is very familiar with Sophie Mangal.  Over the two years of our existence she has flooded us with literally scores of submissions, the overwhelming majority of which were about the Syrian war.  All of these submissions took a strongly pro-Syrian government position.

Sophie Mangal’s submissions however tended to be very brief and one dimensional, lacking much in the way of analysis and context.  Accordingly, though we are always willing to consider submissions, in Sophie Mangal’s case we only felt able to publish a few of them.

This however did not seem to deter her in the slightest.  We still continued to receive submissions from her at a prodigious rate.

Unlike “Alice Donovan” Sophie Mangal did however appear to have a genuine personality.

I actually corresponded with her on the subject of the draft constitution the Russian government proposed for Syria, which was discussed some months ago at the Astana talks, and of which the Inside Syria Media Center sent us a copy.  The replies I got were definitely written by a real person.  In the article I subsequently wrote about this draft constitution I acknowledged Sophie Mangal’s help and that of the Inside Syria Media Center’s in writing it.

Counterpunch’s latest investigation has however exposed how threadbare the background of Sophie Mangal’s personality actually is.

It turns out that apart from a mountain of articles, a single photograph (see caption) and a few emails there is no independent trace of her.  Attempts to check facts she has provided about her background have led nowhere.

Moreover it has turned out that just as “Alice Donovan” has been plagiarising articles by Sophie Mangal, so Sophie Mangal has been plagiarising articles by other writers.

Moreover Counterpunch’s enquiries about Sophie Mangal raised serious questions about the reality of yet another writer who also seemed to have some connection to the Inside Syria Media Center.  This was Anna Jaunger, some of whose articles The Duran has also published.

It turns out that not only was there not much evidence for the actual existence of Anna Jaunger, but plagiarism appeared to be involved in her work as well, and – even more seriously – there was also clear evidence of identity theft, with the photograph “Anna Jaunger” has provided of herself being the stolen photograph of another woman.

Overall Counterpunch’s investigation exposes what looks like a veritable labyrinth of invisible or non-existent writers hiding behind concocted identities and fabricated life stories, with all of this somehow connected to the Inside Syria Media Center, and with the entire project depending heavily on plagiarism to give its mathematically prodigious output at least some appearance of substance.

Counterpunch’s discoveries raise serious questions which require full answers.

I accordingly took down Sophie Mangal’s and Anna Jaunger’s articles which The Duran had published and immediately emailed both Sophie Mangal and Mariam Al-Hijab, the editor in chief of the Inside Syria Media Center, saying that there were serious questions about their work which urgently required answers, and asking them to contact me to explain themselves.

To my astonishment instead of receiving a reply what I got from Sophie Mangal was two new submissions, both on the topic of the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme and both sent via the same email server – mail.com – which Counterpunch had flagged in its investigation.  The second of these submissions came with a brief introductory email which reads as follows

Dear colleague, this is the special investigative correspondent, Sophie Mangal.
I submit here my new article in English and kindly request that you look into the possibility of publishing it on your website.

The first submission did not come with any message.

Further requests sent to Sophie Mangal since we received these submissions have gone unanswered.  I now believe that Sophie Mangal’s emails attaching her two latest submissions were machine generated, and were triggered automatically by the emails I had sent her.  Presumably following the exposure the device which generated these emails has been turned off.

In other words I now think that there is no longer any actual person at the other end of the email address which we have used in the past to correspond with Sophie Mangal.

If I am wrong about this, then I invite Sophie Mangal and Mariam Al-Hijab to contact me in order to explain themselves and to put me right.  However I now inform them in advance that should they do so I will consider myself duty bound to share whatever explanation and information they give me with other concerned websites, including of course Counterpunch.

Assuming that I don’t hear from Sophie Mangal and Mariam Al-Hijab – as I expect – what conclusions can be drawn from this strange affair?

Firstly, it is clear that some sort of organisation is involved, and that someone has gone to some trouble to set up what increasingly looks like a media centre with dummy reporters to spread stories about the Syrian war.

I say this because based on Counterpunch’s investigation the “Inside Syria Media Center” despite having a live website has something of the appearance of a phantom, much as Sophie Mangal now does.

At this point it is important to say that a distinction must be made between a concocted and completely fictitious identity and a genuine writer who writes under a pseudonym.  “Alice Donovan” and probably “Anna Jaunger” look to be the former not the latter, and one should not confuse the two.

Secondly, though this project has generated a massive amount of raw output in the two or so years of its existence, it has remarkably little to show for the resources which have been put into it.

Some articles have been published on some sites – including unfortunately ours – but they have added precisely nothing to the overall debate, and there is not a scintilla of evidence that they have swayed anyone.  All that they have done is badly duplicate the work of actual writers, some of whom they have plagiarised.

I am not going to venture a guess as to who is behind this project, save to say (1) that if it is an intelligence agency then its crudeness argues strongly against it being the intelligence agency of any of the major powers; and (2) all the indications are this project has its origins in the Middle East.

As to the FBI’s theory that Russian intelligence is behind “Alice Donovan”, not only have I seen no evidence for this, but the sheer crudeness of this project to my mind all but rules that idea out.

Putting aside that there is no obvious motive for Russian intelligence to set up a project of this kind, its botched implementation makes it inconceivable to me that the Russians could have been involved in it.

I appreciate when I say this that I may be attributing to Russian intelligence more sophistication and intelligence than it actually has.

However everything that I have heard about Russian intelligence suggests that it is very sophisticated and intelligent indeed, which makes it impossible for me to believe that it could have been involved in a crude and amateurish project like this.

That is all that I feel that it is possible to say about this strange affair.  Moreover despite Counterpunch’s painstaking and thorough efforts I doubt that we will now ever learn the full truth.  Whoever is behind this project now knows they have been exposed and will take whatever precautions they can in order to conceal themselves.

In the meantime Counterpunch deserves everyone’s thanks for exposing this troubling and frankly ugly sham.

In the present heated atmosphere distinguishing fact from fiction in today’s news is becoming difficult enough.  If this affair shows anything it is that we now also need to be on our guard about some of the purported messengers of that news.

Cynics will no doubt rightly say that it was ever thus.  Still it is good to be reminded of it from time to time, and we at The Duran certainly will try to learn this lesson.  In the meantime we can only apologise to our readers for letting ourselves be gulled in the way that we were.

We also express our thanks to Counterpunch for putting us right, and for all the hard work they have done in exposing this ugly sham.

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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New Satellite Images Reveal Aftermath Of Israeli Strikes On Syria; Putin Accepts Offer to Probe Downed Jet

The images reveal the extent of destruction in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport.

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Via Zerohedge


An Israeli satellite imaging company has released satellite photographs that reveal the extent of Monday night’s attack on multiple locations inside Syria.

ImageSat International released them as part of an intelligence report on a series of Israeli air strikes which lasted for over an hour and resulted in Syrian missile defense accidentally downing a Russian surveillance plane that had 15 personnel on board.

The images reveal the extent of destruction on one location struck early in attack in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport. On Tuesday Israel owned up to carrying out the attack in a rare admission.

Syrian official SANA news agency reported ten people injured in the attacks carried out of military targets near three major cities in Syria’s north.

The Times of Israel, which first reported the release of the new satellite images, underscores the rarity of Israeli strikes happening that far north and along the coast, dangerously near Russian positions:

The attack near Latakia was especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.

The Russian S-400 system was reportedly active during the attack, but it’s difficult to confirm or assess the extent to which Russian missiles responded during the strikes.

Three of the released satellite images show what’s described as an “ammunition warehouse” that appears to have been completely destroyed.

The IDF has stated their airstrikes targeted a Syrian army facility “from which weapons-manufacturing systems were supposed to be transferred to Iran and Hezbollah.” This statement came after the IDF expressed “sorrow” for the deaths of Russian airmen, but also said responsibility lies with the “Assad regime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express regret over the incident while offering to send his air force chief to Russia with a detailed report — something which Putin agreed to.

According to Russia’s RT News, “Major-General Amikam Norkin will arrive in Moscow on Thursday, and will present the situation report on the incident, including the findings of the IDF inquiry regarding the event and the pre-mission information the Israeli military was so reluctant to share in advance.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry condemned the “provocative actions by Israel as hostile” and said Russia reserves “the right to an adequate response” while Putin has described the downing of the Il-20 recon plane as likely the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances” and downplayed the idea of a deliberate provocation, in contradiction of the initial statement issued by his own defense ministry.

Pro-government Syrians have reportedly expressed frustration this week that Russia hasn’t done more to respond militarily to Israeli aggression; however, it appears Putin may be sidestepping yet another trap as it’s looking increasingly likely that Israel’s aims are precisely geared toward provoking a response in order to allow its western allies to join a broader attack on Damascus that could result in regime change.

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“Transphobic” Swedish Professor May Lose Job After Noting Biological Differences Between Sexes

A university professor in Sweden is under investigation after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded”

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Via Zerohedge


A university professor in Sweden is under investigation for “anti-feminism” and “transphobia” after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded” and that genders cannot be regarded as “social constructs alone,” reports Academic Rights Watch.

For his transgression, Germund Hesslow – a professor of neuroscience at Lund University – who holds dual PhDs in philosophy and neurophysiology, may lose his job – telling RT that a “full investigation” has been ordered, and that there “have been discussions about trying to stop the lecture or get rid of me, or have someone else give the lecture or not give the lecture at all.”

“If you answer such a question you are under severe time pressure, you have to be extremely brief — and I used wording which I think was completely innocuous, and that apparently the student didn’t,” Hesslow said.

Hesslow was ordered to attend a meeting by Christer Larsson, chairman of the program board for medical education, after a female student complained that Hesslow had a “personal anti-feminist agenda.” He was asked to distance himself from two specific comments; that gay women have a “male sexual orientation” and that the sexual orientation of transsexuals is “a matter of definition.”

The student’s complaint reads in part (translated):

I have also heard from senior lecturers that Germund Hesslow at the last lecture expressed himself transfobically. In response to a question of transexuallism, he said something like “sex change is a fly”. Secondly, it is outrageous because there may be students during the lecture who are themselves exposed to transfobin, but also because it may affect how later students in their professional lives meet transgender people. Transpersonals already have a high level of overrepresentation in suicide statistics and there are already major shortcomings in the treatment of transgender in care, should not it be countered? How does this kind of statement coincide with the university’s equal treatment plan? What has this statement given for consequences? What has been done for this to not be repeated? –Academic Rights Watch

After being admonished, Hesslow refused to distance himself from his comments, saying that he had “done enough” already and didn’t have to explain and defend his choice of words.

At some point, one must ask for a sense of proportion among those involved. If it were to become acceptable for students to record lectures in order to find compromising formulations and then involve faculty staff with meetings and long letters, we should let go of the medical education altogether,” Hesslow said in a written reply to Larsson.

He also rejected the accusation that he had a political agenda – stating that his only agenda was to let scientific factnot new social conventions, dictate how he teaches his courses.

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